Gothic Horror Tropes!

Read any good books lately? Or perhaps you've a short story you wish to share.
thatalex
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Joined: 23 Oct 2023, 21:17

Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by thatalex »

I am working on a quasi-Regency-era Gothic horror setting and quests for a homebrew roleplaying campaign. The era is complicated - I am thinking a theoretically late 18th century/early 19th century level of technological and social advancement, but combined with a sense of dilapidation and decay that turns the protagonists into dwellers in ruins of grand mansions and proto-colonial travellers through strange and exotic fantasy lands with Arabic and Ancient Egyptian influence!

The problem is, the only period-appropriate Gothic literature I have read is Vathek! Also Wuthering Heights (this is a brutal book, forget the "Romantic" reputation), Dracula, The Turn of the Screw, and some Lovecraft stories such as The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath are borderline or partial matches for the sort of mood, vibe, and plotlines I am considering.

The tropes that I have gathered from these scant few sources include:

-Vampires. I know, I know. They're too iconic to leave out but will require some kind of twisted interpretation so as not to seem over-familiar.

-Ghouls/other scavengers of dead or nearly-dead flesh. May or may not be evil or sentient or both.

-Shapeshifters, especially animal-aspected ones such as vampires or lycanthropes.

-Possession: Spiritual or demonic control of people, animals, or mechanical constructs - and even inanimate objects potentially.

-Ghosts: Not always to be feared; monstrous ghosts such as wraiths or poltergeists exist, but some unquiet dead might be worth talking to. Some may even desire justice, peace, or other noble goals.

-Omens and prophecies. Could add to a mood of Fatalism.

-Star-crossed lovers. Preferably young, gorgeous, and Doomed. The other side of Fatalism.

-Sizzling Gypsies....

Help me fill out this list, and I'll consider a character insert...
Sycorax
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Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by Sycorax »

Additional tropes:
Location/Setting as a character. "Pet Semetary" by Stephen King is an obvious example of this. The graveyard itself is sort of "sentient" in a way and is able to react and respond to Louis Creed and Judd Crandall's various batshit attempts to resurrect the dead. Another example would be "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Poe. Roderick believes the house is "alive" and that it derives its spooky powers from the landscape and vegetation surrounding it. Oh, and the whole business where they bury his sister in the family crypt and "the house" prevents Madeleines body from decaying.

As you're looking to incorporate some Arabic and Ancient Egyptian influence...

-Aicha kandica: She's from Morocco. Stories about her vary but usually she's a beautiful woman sat near an oasis or body of water who lures men to their untimely and violent deaths. Also, sometimes she makes women miscarry their babies. So that could be horrifying.

-Falaak: Falaak is a giant serpent who appears in "1001 nights" . He lives in the earth, awaiting judgement day when he may break free from below the surface of the earth and eat all the humans on earth. He's stuck under the earth because he's scared of God, I guess. (If you're into Norse mythology he's sort of similar conceptually to Jormungandr). Also, he's fire-proof.
The only pain I want in my life is pain au chocolat.
thatalex
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Joined: 23 Oct 2023, 21:17

Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by thatalex »

Poe is a good call; his tales of malice and obsession are very well-told.

We have similar folklore in Northern Europe about the huldra, "forest maidens", and also the fey (in Ireland and the British Isles) who will trick people off the path and wandering in the woods for a night - only to return in a hundred years with everyone they love dead...

The Falaak as cosmic threat to a doomed world is VERY compatible with my setting, thank you! It's my belief that such a powerful beast would have many names and "aspects" in various different mythologies throughout my fictional world, perhaps with a few disturbing commonalities between them!

Currently my imagination is leaning towards a picaresque series of adventures for a daring young woman on her Grand Tour, winning fame and fortune for her noble house in hopes of a better life than her father. This could be made into a series of novels, the first one will be called The Haunt of the Innocents...
Sycorax
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Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by Sycorax »

Sticking to the theme of "cosmic serpents" and perhaps of use or interest to you:

-In my home region, the local indigenous people (Ktunaxa, pronounced "tuh-na-ha") tell a story about a massive sea serpent called "Yawuʔnik̓" (Do not ask me how to pronounce that, I've been told but cannot recall what sound ? is supposed to make..). Anyways, this sea serpent killed a ton of animals, so the remaining animals decided to form a mob and kill Yawuʔnik̓. They chase this creature through what we now call "The Kootenay and Columbia River System", and its various lakes: So basically they just went in a circle. Eventually the mob blocks off these river systems and traps Yawuʔnik̓ in a lake. They kill him, use his bones to form the place I live, and his entrails to make the different races of people. Sort of reminds me of the biblical Leviathan.

-Also in my home region, we have many, many Russians and Ukrainians. The Ukrainians all insist we make psyanky every year not just to please God, but also because it stops an evil serpent from bursting out of the Carpathian Mountains and killing us all. Apparently, the psyanky act as a chain and the more that are made, the stronger the chain. I have never seen that particular story documented in a book, it's simply what we were told every year doing arts and crafts at Easter.

-We have Wendigo's here that act similar to a huldra. They lure people into the forests by whistling, or by sounding like a woman in distress, or instilling in you the sudden urge to run into the woods alone. They are massive, evil, cannabalistic spirits who will eat your body AND your eternal soul, removing you from the circle of life entirely. If you are a child alone in a forest at night, it will just come and eat you with no warning. Kids here are told to not whistle in the woods so as not to draw its attention. Once the sun goes down, any kid is fair game to it/them. Usually preceded by a foul stench and a sudden chill in the air.
The only pain I want in my life is pain au chocolat.
thatalex
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Joined: 23 Oct 2023, 21:17

Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by thatalex »

Oh wow, Wendigos are very similar to the Old Norse (pre-Christian) concept of Trolls as evil nature spirits capable of causing "bad luck" and serious misfortune to wayfarers. Trolls could also possess corpses if improperly buried, and animals. Hence one of my stories contains a massive horse referred to as a "trollsteed", and the Sagas bring us the picturesque insult "You'll wrestle with the Trolls for possession of your very soul!" to someone doomed to die a lonely death in a wild place.... Trolls may or may not be analogous to the Giants in the Eddas; certainly they represent the same primal forces of untamed wilderness and cold.

Folk beliefs are very interesting. Thinking of my narrative arc, the pastoral farmers (of the place corresponding to the rural North of England where the ruined mansion that is home to my protagonist is located) might have some rural horrors going on in their folklore. I like the story about the dismemberment of Osiris (and the corresponding one about Dionysus) but these are based on the wheat-threshing process and might be more suitable for farmers than herdsmen. More on-point Northern English and Scottish legends include the Barghest, "witches" (cognate to Trolls, Draugr, or wizards, retained from the Norse connection) that possess animals, and of course.... The Fey.

The terrifying Bridget Cleary murder and the stories surrounding it (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Bridget_Cleary ) give some idea of the power and prevalence of belief in fairies in rural Ireland at the late date of 1895, and they also reflect the changing public mood - given that before newspapers were often circulated there were Changeling murders on a regular basis in Ireland and England too. As an ND individual (ASD) I can relate better to the "changeling children" than the murderers thereof. There is no question in my mind that the tales of kids acting in ways that weren't stereotypically childish come from "little professors" with high-functioning autism, that rural society of the time simply had no use for.

Finally, there were real witch trials in Northern England not long before the Regency era - there was a subculture of beggar women who would use the spiritual powers attributed to all women in Celtic folklore to bring curses on people who didn't throw them coins, and perhaps rumours of dark powers or poisons wielded by some village women would add credence to their threats. Then again they can't have held much real power, if the enraged locals they threatened still punished them for witchcraft!
Sycorax
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Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by Sycorax »

Wendigo's also have the additional power of inspiring greed and selfishness amongst people, which is why they are particularly feared by indigenous populations.

I thought trolls and giants were sort of ah...."subcategories" of Jotun? I read the Poetic Edda and the saga of the Volsungs and Ragnar Lothbrok a year ago but cannot recall exactly if that is the case.

I was not aware that the belief in changeling children and how that belief was used to explain autism, but that makes good sense as I sit here thinking about it. (Actually, as I think on it, the language around autism has not changed much from the time of changelings. Today at work I listened to a woman briefly describe how autism "stole" her grandchild..After I was done silently judging this woman for what she said about her 3-year-old grand child, I was reminded of this conversation).


I don't know that I see Bridget Cleary's murder as a case of the power and prevalence of belief in the Fey (though it could be) as much as I see it as blatant misogyny directed at a woman who was becoming financially independent and probably did not meet the requirements for "proper" behaviour at the time. In fact, I doubt that people in the middle ages seriously believed in Satan and the Fey and this sort of thing. I am sure some people did, of course, but overall: No.

A major obstacle to my belief in this is that charges against so-called witches were so unbelievable and grotesque as to be incommensurable with any motivation or crime. How can we account for the deaths and torture of hundreds of thousands of women for crimes such as murdering scores of children, drinking blood, destroying cattle and crops by raising storms, and other abominations? Another problem I see with attributing sincere belief in witchcraft to people in the middle ages is that we do not have the viewpoints of any of the witches on this subject. We have reports from their persecutors and murderers, sure, but none from the actual women who are alleged to have done all these things.

Whether or not the witch hunts were done as a result of genuine belief/fear of sorcery vs beliefs being used cynically as instruments of social repression is ultimately futile. When I consider the context in which witch hunting occurred, the gender and class of the accused, and the effects of persecution, I am led to conclude that witch-hunting in Europe was less about belief than it was about attacking women's resistance to the spread of capitalist relations and power and women's control over their sexuality and fertility. Witch-hunting was instrumental to the establishment of a new order of control over women's bodies, their labour, and their sexual and reproductive abilities. It was also a helpful way to get rid of people who were not deemed "useful" in the new capitalist hellscape. Anyone feeble, anyone who is neurodivergent, etc etc.

Violent control over reproduction occurs after mass depopulation events. In the 1580s, the population of Western Europe was declining and this continued into the 17th century. The wealthy could afford to avoid plagues and pandemics, but the working classes could not. The decrease in available workers meant in simple terms that the workers were able to demand a better standard of living for themselves. Additionally, due to depopulation, markets shrank and trade stagnated. Mass depopulation in the colonies due to disease was also a significant contributing factor to this. It was due to this crisis that population growth became a state matter. It intensified the persecution of "witches", healers, and anyone suspected of administering abortifacients. This went hand in hand with the abolition of contraceptive plants/methods and state regulation of procreation. By severing the ties women had over their own reproduction, the state hoped to force women to birth a wave of new workers. Punishments for contraception use, abortion, and infanticide were harsh, and in many cases the punishment was death.

The result of these shifts is the enslavement of women to procreation, to being non workers, with no control over their bodies, forced to reproduce for the state and confined to unpaid reproductive labour. I would even go so far as to call the witch-hunts a genocide against women.

We see this same thing repeating itself right now in the United States. I am not surprised that after a global pandemic in which millions of people died, causing a labour shortage, that the American government overturned Roe v Wade.

So when I think of Bridget, I see her less as a victim of folk beliefs and more a victim of capitalism and patriarchy.
The only pain I want in my life is pain au chocolat.
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sharoma
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Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by sharoma »

I agree that Caliban and the Witch is absolutely essential reading for anyone even casually interested in history.
Robin
Sycorax
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Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by Sycorax »

@sharoma Yes. It was one of the most important books I have read in the past decade without question.
The only pain I want in my life is pain au chocolat.
thatalex
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Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by thatalex »

This is all fascinating - Sycorax, I do not believe that our angles preclude each other; witch-hunts reflect a patriarchal and stratified society for sure, but mobilisation against an imagined enemy is one way of uniting a divided society. This works all the better if "dark powers" are a concern shared by the populace. Speaking of which....

At some places and times, belief in "old folk tales" and traditions could have been a marker of religious and ideological impurity given that both the Witch Trials and the Spanish Inquisition happened at times of religious turmoil! At others, perhaps simply the picturesque foreground overlaying class and gender oppression.

The crimes you mention attributed to witches were largely natural disasters (where they occurred at all), which people sought scapegoats for. A similar "blame engine" operates in populist politics today and dates back to Old Testament psychology and Proto-Indo-European sacrificial rituals tapping a desire to please powers beyond mortal ken with displays of righteousness.....
Sycorax
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Re: Gothic Horror Tropes!

Post by Sycorax »

@Thatalex I do not think our angles preclude each other, either. It would be very simplistic to attribute the witch trials to one or two theories alone, it's more complex than that. Mobilisation against an imagined enemy/other is indeed a quick way to unite a divided society-or a divided household, in the case of Bridget Cleary. "Dark powers" is also a convenient way avoid accountability for heinous crimes..or, anything, really. The "blame engine" as you rightly call it (I like that expression, by the way) can be inflicted upon any person or group with some minor script editing.

I've often wondered about the efficacy of human sacrifice from a magic/occult perspective. Many stories of sacrifice are just communities using the blame engine to remove undesirable individuals or groups from the collective...but that's not a sacrifice, is it? A sacrifice is supposed to *hurt*. The whole point is you exchange your pain and suffering at the loss of a person (or a few people, or an object) in exchange for xyz outcome from their preferred god. If it doesn't hurt, then surely it isn't a valid sacrifice.

P.S: On the subject of vampires and tropes. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good, horrifying vampire. The sexy, seductive vampire has been running rampant in the culture for the past couple of decades. I’d like to see the return of a Sava Savonovic kind of vampire. A true, bloodthirsty, unsexy monster you cannot reason with.
This is a good summary of the story usually associated with him “After 90 years”. https://meettheslavs.com/sava-savanovic/
The only pain I want in my life is pain au chocolat.
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